Review: Wonder Woman: Lords and Liars trade paperback


Mariko Tamaki’s Wonder Woman: Lords & Liars fulfills its undoubted intended purpose, which is to get a collection prominently featuring Wonder Woman and Maxwell Lord on to bookstore shelves somewhere between the theatrical release of Wonder Woman 1984 and DVD sales. That it’s unlikely to meet the standards of most discerning comic book readers is unfortunate but probably beside the point.

I have high hopes for Tamaki upcoming on Detective Comics, so hopefully Lords doesn’t reflect the writer’s best work, but rather is indicative of the unavoidable quality of a comic commissioned as a “we need this hero fighting this villain and it needs to be this long” kind of thing. As well, what was billed as a powerhouse team of Tamaki and popular artist Mikel Janin on Wonder Woman swiftly sees Janin replaces with Carlo Barberi, Steve Pugh, and Rafa Sandoval — all of whom have good work under their belts, but none of whom can stand up to Janin’s two of this book’s 11 issues (that DC uses Janin’s art in the front matter and on the back cover despite his minor contribution is, I think, telling).

It’s been a rough couple of years for the Wonder Woman title, despite the character’s cinematic success, and Lords & Liars isn’t an improvement.

[Review contains spoilers]

Wonder Woman and Maxwell Lord are two characters that were for a long time almost wholly outside each others' orbits in the 1980s and through Lord’s time in limbo, until they became coincidentally linked when Diana killed Lord in “Sacrifice”, an Infinite Crisis lead-in side story. If you were around a while well before Infinite Crisis, seeing Lord posited as a Wonder Woman villain is on its own a bit strange.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

But Lord’s dubious morality, even when on the side of angels, makes it easy to believe him as a villain who dabbles in heroism. Given these characters' pointed history, teaming Diana and Lord in a spy caper offers a lot of potential. There is even the also coincidental, but useful, parallel of Diana as a character who embodies truth alongside Max Lord, a character whose powers are roughly based in illusion, lies, and mind control. (Lord essentially takes the spot in Diana’s villains line-up that Dr. Psycho has historically filled.) So there’s a lot going for the premise of Lords & Liars that would suggest the opportunity for success.

Among the first places Lords & Liars goes off the rails is in Tamaki’s introduction of Lord’s secret daughter Emma. She never seems much of a threat — an angsty teenager with a tendency to glow purple, drawn most of the time by Barberi, whose cartoony style worked for books like Impulse but drains all the seriousness out here (vs. Janin’s moody prison fight earlier). Tamaki reveals Emma as the villain early enough that some of the first five issues where we wait for Diana to figure it out feel like a slog. And I could never get over that Tamaki has Emma insist on being called “Liar Liar” (as in, unspoken, “… pants on fire”) without recognizing (or acknowledging in the text) just how ridiculous that is.

Over six more issues, Lords never seems to recover. Diana and Lord embark on two missions together, one of which consists mainly of Diana fighting robots that, for no well-defined reason, were hiding in the ocean. In the other, Diana and Lord try to retrieve stoled tech from Count Vertigo and Diana is struck blind. Again, potential all around, but Tamaki never capitalizes on it. While blinded, Diana has intriguing visions of something going on with Lord, but once Diana’s sight is restored, Tamaki doesn’t follow up.

Diana has an emotional scene where she wonders about trusting Lord; it’s a scene that fits in some story, but hasn’t done enough to build a relationship between Diana and Lord for Diana’s concern to seem at all sensible. Later on, Diana beats herself up over some mistake she made related to Lord, but neither is it ever clear what exactly Diana did wrong. Tamaki seems to have the beats of this story, but the scenes are too hollow to deliver the requisite emotion.

One intriguing aspect of Lords is how Tamaki, by choice or by fiat, tries to appeal to a variety of audiences in terms of the characters' continuities. On one hand Lords is very continuity-light — there is no mention of Diana’s breakup with Steve Trevor or the mysterious third tribe of Amazons or anything like that; rather this is a Wonder Woman adventure that a new reader could somewhat easily understand. On the other hand, the book is steeped in references to other stories that a reader might also handily find at their bookstore — Diana’s New 52 adventures, which one might think weren’t in continuity any more, and Diana killing Lord around Infinite Crisis, which is devoutly not in continuity but that Tamaki finds a way to underlie the conflicts anyway.

Again, there’s plenty of opportunity here, especially with Tamaki writing a Rebirth-continuity Diana who can meta-reflect on her alternate self’s controversial choices regarding Max Lord. And indeed, the story is at its best (before Liar Liar returns and Diana fights a rabbit-turned-dragon) when Diana and Lord are at finally each other’s throats, drawn well by Sandoval. But when Lord bids Diana to kill him, she simply does not, really without much fanfare. At what ought be the inflection point of the entire book, Tamaki doesn’t seem to have that much to say.



Other small things bothered me about Wonder Woman: Lords & Liars — that Mariko Tamaki writes a kind of “year one” Wonder Woman who doesn’t know how a faux Ikea works instead of the modern, sophisticated diplomat; that Tamaki’s Wonder Woman can talk to fish (I guess? For some reason this feels outside her power set). It has been, again, a rough period for Wonder Woman comics; since Brian Azzarello’s New 52 success, we’ve seen almost 20 volumes and at least a half-dozen writers, none of whom offered anything very compelling (even Wonder Woman legend Greg Rucka’s second run never seemed to arrive where it was trying to go). Now we’re on the cusp of Future State and another new creative team. I tell you, at this point I don’t have a lot of hope that DC’s got the vision to right this ship.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches]

Comments ( 3 )

  1. Azzarello and Chiang's Wonder Woman series was so good. Wish it could have continued.

  2. Rucka's Rebirth run is great but DC did a lousy job of collecting it in the 4 trades. The contemporary and flashback storylines are intertwined so you are supposed to read them in publication order. Splitting them up into individual storylines just made them all feel incomplete and like a series of unconnected incidents rather than a full story is in the publication order something that happens now wwas then reflected in the next issue that was set in the past, you'd get the backstory of a character in the issue straight after they were introduced etc. I really would reccomend a re-read in the correct order (#1-25). I think it might make you look upon the run more warmly.

    1. I considered a grand re-read once upon a time, but the events seemed to get swept under the rug so quickly. Maybe one of these days (I ought re-read Rucka's first run sometime, too!).


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